Tuesday, January 31, 2006
I was there briefly a week or so ago and I want to return. This is where Michael Jordon went during 50 point games, where Yo Yo Ma goes during a performance, where Leonardo DaVinci and Michael Angelo went during their painting. The throes of creation.
Somehow I lost it. I was tooling along fine, finished a few short stories that came out really well and then nothing the well ran dry, someone turned of the spiggot.
How do you conjure this up? How do you return the that place where the magic happens?
Life seems to get in the way. I think I'll drink about it.
Monday, January 30, 2006
A man walks into a bar. He sees a good looking, smartly dressed woman perched on a bar stool.
He walks up behind her and says, "Hi there good looking, how's it going?
She turns around, faces him, looks him straight in the eye and says, "Listen, I'll screw anybody, anytime, anywhere, your place, my place, it doesn't matter. I've been doing it ever since I got out of college. I just flat out love it."
He says, "No kidding, I'm a lawyer too! What firm are you with?"
I do not fear failure. I only fear the "slowing up" of the engine inside of me which is pounding, saying, "Keep going, someone must be on top, why not you?"
George S. Patton
I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.
George S. Patton
Sunday, January 29, 2006
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”
Henry David Thoreau
The sea has long been the place of intrigue, battles, struggles and tragic death. Living close by the sea, I became aware of death at an early age. Mother ocean claimed many people close to me by the time I reached adulthood. The intrigue, battles, and struggles came later.
Monday, mid-afternoon, a sweltering late August breeze picked up from the south and induced an instant and persistent all over body sweat. The Atlantic Ocean boiled frothy white and choppy. I pointed the bow west to leave the protection of the Albemarle Sound through the Oregon Inlet at the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Not the perfect day for a pleasure cruise but with a topless thonged tanned beauty on the bow with drink in hand, a well stocked bar and galley-- summer’s end was too close to waste the opportunity for a short day sail.
The wind whistled through the rigging, topside speakers were loud enough to be heard over the wind and waves with B.B. King trying to figure out how blue he could get.
The borrowed seventies vintage cutter-rigged sloop, the Currahee, cut well through the chop, intermittently slapping a welcome fine mist of seawater back to the cockpit. The boat was big enough to live aboard, rigged for single-handed sailing, and had all the accessories for deep blue water cruising.
The woman swaying to the music and the waves aboard was one Ms. Evangeline “Vangey” S. Whitmore Esquire, 32, thrice divorced, partner in the prestigious law firm of Martin, Whitmore, & Powell of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Vangey was stunning and she was slumming. Sandy blonde hair cut in the severe executive 2000’s look 5’9” perfectly proportioned elegant deep tan with tan-lines that contrasted sufficiently to make one ponder if there ever was an all over tan. We were on a blind date set up by my best friend Trevor Barrow, Attorney for the damned, owner of the boat.
She yelled something back at me that I couldn’t understand and pointed due North beyond the Point at what appeared to be a dead whale with an array of tropical birds perched on it and a short object protruding up from it. It looked to be about a mile out. I adjusted my heading to intercept it. There was a slight sour smell in the gentle salty breeze.
As we got closer it appeared to be more of a floating mass, reddish-brown, with a mossy texture. It reeked of something between sewage and rotting fish. The closer we got the stronger the odor.
“Alex, is this the way you woo your dates?” Vangy asked with a twisted nose as she rejoined me in the cockpit.
“This wasn’t in the game plan, but it’s a navigational hazard for the nuts in the cigarette boats.”
Her beautiful full lips tightened and twisted into a grin, her nose turned up and she exclaimed, “ your going to protect those loud, obnoxious, stink-pot boats for the penis challenged?”
“Penis challenged, is that a legal term?”
“Longer the boat, bigger the horse power, shorter the penis.” She smiled and giggled. I liked her cute laugh. It was sexy and turned me on more than her jiggling naked breasts.
“Wow, you’re a tough crowd. I hope there isn’t a penis equation for sail boaters.”
She just laughed.
The waves were too choppy for cigarette boats today but the calmness of the protected Sound can be deceiving and the mass was too close to the inlet. I wanted to check it out and alert the Coast Guard if necessary.
As we got close the birds flew away, and what was left was bird droppings and a piece of rusty metal about 3 inches in diameter, sticking up about two feet at a slight angle. I dropped the sails, brought the boat abreast on the starboard side, pointed the bow into the chop, and put out to anchors off the bow and stern with sufficient scope to keep it in relative position. I asked Vangy to hand me the gaff hook from the front deck which she did as I lowered the dingy from the stern davits.
As I came upon the mass, the blast of stench combined with the heat and humidity started a gag reflex in my throat. I removed my bandana from around my neck and tied it over my nose and mouth. I chunked the gaff hook into the mass, tied the handle off to the dingy, and surveyed the mass. It looked like bog that you would find in the Florida Everglades, about the size and shape of a twenty-five foot boat. I swung my leg over the dinghy’s side and tested whether it would support my weight – it did.
I grabbed the protruding rusty object to steady my balance and was surprised when it slowly trembled lose. It was pretty heavy so I tried to hoist it on my shoulder to put it in the dingy. It seemed to catch on something below the surface, and as I pulled at it, there was a distinctive cracking sound and my feet submerged about a foot into the surface of the bog.
“What is it?” Vangy yelled.
“I am not sure, it looks metal and like its been submerged for a very long time.”
I took my Leatherman from its pouch on my hip, opened it to the largest knife blade and began to hack at the base of the object where it met the mass. As I cleared away what I had chopped the blade nicked the rusty object there was a glint of shiny metal, a dark yellow gold and what appeared to be gloves around the object and in the gloves . . . there were hands. Well not really hands but what was left of hands.
The sight of thia startled me so much I lost my balance and fell into the Atlantic. The coolness of the sea was actually refreshing.
I had Vangy retrieve and pitch me some scuba goggles that where in the cockpit of the boat. I was curious as to what the underside of the bog looked like and if there was a body attached to the hands. It was pretty hard to see but it looked like a scuba fin was sticking out of the bottom of the muck.
As I surfaced, Vangy asked again what it was and my mind raced as to how to answer. I decided not to answer until I got back on the Currahee. Getting into a dingy in the choppy Atlantic is a trick that has killed many a person so I skipped the trick and swam over to the Currahee and boarded via the swim ladder.
I was out of breath from the effort and the excitement.
She said “Well?”
“Well, I have a moral and ethical dilemma.” I exhaled.
“Moral and ethical dilemmas are my area of expertise, honey.”
“I didn’t think lawyers had morals or ethics.”
“Oh you’ve be reading too much liberal journalism, I am a Corporate Lawyer we set the standard.”
I figured what the hell, why sugar-coat it, she’s a lawyer. “Well I think that big hunk of metal sticking out is gold of some type and a dead body has its arms around it and is entombed in that big floating turd over there.”
“G….g…..gold, d….d…dead, t…t…turd?” She pointed in the direction of the bog.
I scratched a whelp on my brow left by an infamous Southern mosquito “Yep, I was hoping for wine, woman, and song and our date has ended up gold, dead, and turd. That about sums it up.”
“What are we going to do?” she said........
This is half of the first chapter, the beginning, I'm thinking of shit canning the whole thing. I wrote it 3 months ago and am about 80 pages into it and stuck.
Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading it.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Let me know what you think.
Is this the new wave in book advertising?
For anyone interested there is a free Podcast library at Apple's iTunes Music Store. It requires a download but it's worth it. There are 356 free podcasts related to books. Some are a little strange but cool none the less.
I am curious if anyone else is going to attend or has in the past attended the Love is Murder Writer's Conference February 3-5 in Chicago.
David Morrell(Author of First Blood, Rambo), J.A. Konrath, and several other authors will be in attendance.
Ths will be my first conference and would like to know what to expect and how to get the most out of it.
Any pearls of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.
e. e. cummings
I'm living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.
e. e. cummings
Friday, January 27, 2006
Within this hypothetical situation, I would like to explain the descision made and reasoning behind it.
Suppose, you train your entire life for a specific marathon. You begin the race, and a few miles into it, someone runs up beside you and says, "Hey, ya know over in Chicago, there's this bigger better race. Huge prize money, bennies, prestige, the works. I can get you in. You want to go? But you gotta go right now." Do you break your stride and quit?
Writing, for me is a calling. A calling that has been whispering in my ear for years, slowly getting louder over decades, until now it is screaming at me. I decided to make writing my career four months ago. The first two months I read every book I could get my hands on; about writing, the industry, mystery and thriller related books, blogs, websites, everything.
Two months ago, I joined a critique group. I started blogging a little over a month ago. My website went live this week. In a week I'm going to my first mystery writer's conference. I have 8 completed short stories(3 submitted), 80 pages of a novel series, half of a play, 20 pages of a screenplay, 3 poems, 2 songs, 2 rough chapters of a non-fiction book... and I haven't even broken into a sprint.
It comes down to this - ARE YOU SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR WRITING?
A really good friend of mine once told me about business, "Hey, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it."
So here's what I did; I counteroffered a flexible consulting gig at a high per day rate. I turned down the "job" offer immediately. I sent the counter offer to three former clients with the same terms.
I am far from living under a bridge. I don't live the life style I'm used to but the trade off for me is worth it. And hey, Pabst, Spam, and Ramin noodles don't taste that bad.
My brother likes to say, if your going to go out, "do it in a blaze of glory." My mother says if you're going to mess up you might as well "fuck up at mach-10".
If I faulter, if I fail, it will be one magnificent fire ball...a blaze of glory, fucking up at mach-10.
Winfrey confronted the A Million Little Pieces author during a live taping of her show on Thursday, stating that she was "really embarrassed" by her initial decision to stand up for him in the face of allegations that he fabricated large chunks of his book.
"It is difficult for me to talk to you because I feel duped. I really feel duped," Winfrey said to Frey.
The Queen of Daytime catapulted A Million Little Pieces to best-seller status after she selected the so-called memoir for her book club.
Thanks in large part to Winfrey's endorsement, Frey's supposedly true tale of his struggles with addiction and stint in rehab sold 1.77 million copies last year, making it the number-two-selling book of the year behind Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
However, after an in-depth investigation by the Smoking Gun Website called major events and details of the book into question, Frey's claims of everything from the amount of time he spent behind bars to undergoing dental surgery without the benefit of Novocaine were discounted.
After finding himself at the center of a media firestorm, Frey began admitting in interviews that he had embellished elements of his tale for dramatic effect, but clung to his mantra that the book represented "the essential truth of my life."
But the staggering discrepancies between the events depicted in Frey's Pieces and the Smoking Gun's report seemed to suggest that the writer was guilty of more than mere embellishment."
Hey, I gave you a choice, this came from E-online where you have no choice...
Thursday, January 26, 2006
and a blast from the past, calls you up and offers you a six figure job
with bennies, a car, travel, and a paid move to a big city - would you take it? -knowing it means 60 to 70 hour weeks, high stress, and no more writing time...
Would you take it?
We are fed it every day for most of our lives, by television, our politicians, religious leaders, news anchors. It surrounds, engulfs, and consumes us - Bullshit.
"Reality" TV Shows, Frey, Jerry Springer, the talking heads - I could go on and on and on.
Truth is in very short supply in America today.
Princeton Professor Emeritas Harry G. Frankfurt recently published a very short philosophy book on the subject, titled appropriately, "ON BULLSHIT". It's about 100 pages and a quick read.
The blurb on Bullshit:
"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit," Harry G. Frankfurt writes, in what must surely be the most eyebrow-raising opener in modern philosophical prose.
Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted." This compact little book, as pungent as the phenomenon it explores, attempts to articulate a theory of this contemporary scourge--what it is, what it does, and why there's so much of it. It can't be denied; part of the book's charm is the puerile pleasure of reading classic academic discourse punctuated at regular intervals by the word "bullshit."
More pertinent is Frankfurt's focus on intentions--the practice of bullshit, rather than its end result. Bullshitting, as he notes, is not exactly lying, and bullshit remains bullshit whether it's true or false.
The difference lies in the bullshitter's complete disregard for whether what he's saying corresponds to facts in the physical world: he "does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."
Check out a short video from the author.
Also, if your interested check out a history of the word "fuck" at Fuck Noir.
Rant on or add to the pile below.
Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.
As long as one person lives in darkness then it seems to be a responsibility to tell other people. Bill Hicks
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Many of my friends and I have been goading, coaxing, and badgering her to blog. She has resisted every pitch we have thrown at her.
Yet, today, for what ever reason she has decided to Wade Into The Shallow Waters.
Please check out her blog and say hi at http://mtwillard.blogspot.com/ .
I think she may shock and amaze you....
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
We are the sum total of our experiences. The good, the bad, the ugly. Writers, good ones anyway, must know themselves. Writing, for me, has been cathartic and in many ways an introspective exploration of self, motivations, perceptions, and realities.
In a recent blog by Jaye Wells, she explores personality tests in detail. I took the quick down and dirty personality test of four questions and found the results to be strikingly accurate. So accurate in fact that it gave me interesting insight into motivations and actions of my past and why I have ended up as a writer.
Yesterday, in a blog with Ivan Prokopchuk, we explored why tortured writers pour themselves out through their pen. Truth, somehow bleeds through the bullshit. Honesty is somehow apparent on its face.
If you are interested, take the test and let me know how accurate the results are.
I think to know yourself makes one a better writer, both in style and character creation. Because as we all know there is a little bit of us in every character...
Monday, January 23, 2006
TV coming soon to a cell phone...in your hand.
"Nokia, Intel, Motorola and other wireless equipment makers have formed an alliance to promote an emerging technology standard for delivering live TV to mobile phones.
The partners said they would work together to develop and spread the use of DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld) – an open standard for broadcasting TV on wireless equipment – through a group dubbed the Mobile DTV Alliance. "
Convergence is coming folks.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Now live: www.rjbaker.net
Check it out and let me know what you think. It has many, many, bugs but you can get the gist of where I'm heading. This has sucked many hours out of my life, but I think I like the final product.
Anyway, opinions and suggestions are valued. Thanks.
In Search of a perfect female character for novel
Smart (not a genius, but bright, and quick)
Interest in some of the following: current events / history / politics / culture
Independent - can take care of herself (NOT needy)
Good sense of humor (and can laugh at herself)
Non-judgmental - can see things from perspectives other then her own
Opinionated and respects that others opinions
Spirited/Passionate/a mild temper
Sassy but not (too) cynical
Confidence, it's quite the aphrodisiac, (in men as well). (Per Pammy)
Loves Sex with the one she loves(OK, I added this one)
Flaws, (per Dawn)
Attractive but not drop-dead. Think about it -- most really gorgeous women, have never had to want/work for anything. They usually are not deep in character. Make her attractive, but believable. And make her so damn interesting/cool/full of attitude that she becomes more attractive.
Of the women you find attractive, how many of them would turn your head if you didn't know them, or only saw a picture? And vise versa -- have you ever met someone that was really attractive physically and then as you got to know them they became less so?
If you're going to spend any time with a woman (or man!) (as a reader will with your character) there's got to be a whole lot more then sex appeal.
Of course this is a book (like a movie) your person doesn't have to be real, so you can make her really gorgeous, but give all the other good stuff too. So you can talk about all the interesting stuff that makes her cool, and oh, yeah, by the way, she's gorgeous too.
Most of this list came from a list graciously prepared by 10-8-ious. Thank you.
Please let me know(Male and female) the characteristics that you find most interesting when reading about a female character.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
I hope to return to more substantive content. I have been experimenting to see what people like. Any suggestions?
How can you tell the difference between a dead skunk and a dead attorney on the road?
The vultures aren't gagging over the skunk.
(varition of ending: skid marks)
What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?
One is a slimy, bottom dwelling, scum sucker. The other is a fish.
What's the difference between an attorney and a pit bull?
If you are stranded on a desert island with Osama, Sadam, and a lawyer, and you have a gun with only two bullets, what do you do?
Shoot the lawyer twice.
What do you call a smiling, sober, courteous person at a bar association convention?
What do lawyers do after they die?
They lie still.
What do lawyers use for birth control?
I've got lotta more...check back next week.
Friday, January 20, 2006
M.J. Rose turns her blog over to a pyschologist every Friday for analysis of writers issues. An excerpt:
"Every Friday I turn this blog into a couch and let Dr. Sue offer up some writer’s therapy. Don’t forget to send her your questions – Dr.Sue at mindspring.com This week’s column is especially interesting I think – with an intro from Dr. O’Doherty.
A LONG AND WHINING ROAD?
A few weeks ago, an author (“Sensitive Novelist”) wrote to express dismay that some of her friends do not read her books and, in fact, seem uninterested in her career. She asked for help in understanding her reaction of hurt and in overcoming her sensitivity to these perceived rejections...."
This post was inspired from Jaye Well's Blog of today.
"If I have not heard from your magazine within 35 days, I will assume you have no interest in the enclosed short story and will submit it to other magazines for consideration."
This is, of course, an attempt to deal with the dreaded "no simultaneous submission" policy of many magazines. I would like to stay within guideline rules but do not want to wait indefinitely for an answer.
What do you think?
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Sent to me by 10-8-ious - one of the asylum crew...
The mystery of Edgar Allan Poe continues. Beginning in 1949, Poe's grave has been visited every year by a mystery man, during the early hours of Poe's birthday, January 19th.
It has been reported that a man draped in black with a silver-tipped cane, kneels at the grave for a toast of Martel Cognac and leaves the half-full bottle and three red roses. The three red roses supposedly are in memory of Poe himself, his mother, and his wife. Poe is believed to be buried on the grounds of what is now the University of Maryland Law School in Baltimore.
Considered by many to be the progenitor of detective and crime fiction in the United States, his cause of death at the age of 40, and his actual burial place remain shrouded in mystery and controversy.
Have a shot of Cognac today and think of Edgar...
From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
Alone, a poem by E.A. Poe
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
A.) Submit to highest paying magazine regardless of genre?
B.) Submit to lesser paying genre related magazine because of possiblilty of recognition from genre specific market and possible entry for genre awards?
C.) Submit it to non-paying genre magazines that are relatively likely to publish the story?
D.) Submit simultainiously to A., B., & C. ? Then chose from whomever accepts-if any.
E). Shove the story in a drawer and drink about it?
This is the quandry. Let me know what you think.
For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.
It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
I personally struggle the most to create compelling opening and closing sentences.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
"We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped a girl off the bridge" John D. McDonald, Darker Than Amber
What is your favorites? In your genre?
Four jobs you have had in your life:
Four movies you watch over and over:
Monte Python's Meaning of Life
Four places you've lived:
In my head
In my car
On my boat
Four Shows you love to watch:
Charlie Rose Show
Inside the Actor's Studio
Dinner For Five(on IFC)
Four places you've been on vacation:
Four of your favourite foods:
Four places you'd rather be right now:
On my sailboat and in the Caribean or French Riviera
#1 on the NYT(if this not available in a loving woman's....arms)
Four sites I visit daily:
Four bloggers you are tagging:
Four sheep breeds you could recognise in a field:
Only the wolf in sheeps clothing type
Four people you'd really like to meet (who are alive) and what you would ask them:
I'd ask them all how they reached the top and stayed there?
Monday, January 16, 2006
What moves you?
Art? Music? Literature? Life?
Blues and writing have many parallels.
What does "The Blues" have to do with writing?
I saw the Bluesman Cedell Davis' story in the documentary You See Me Laughin' and it moved me, deeply. Emotionally.
Cedell Davis was born into the poverty and racism of the Mississippi Delta in 1927. He learned to play the harminica and guitar at an early age but between the ages of nine and ten he was struck down with Polio. His hands atrophied from disease, he was no longer able to play guitar or harmonica. He was right handed and unfortunately, Polio took complete use of it.
Not knowing there were rules, norms, and conventions in music, it took Cedell two years to rethink and retool the way he played guitar. Since he couldn't use his right hand, he flipped the guitar over and began to play left handed, upside down. Because his left hand was afflicted as well, he adapted a butter knife to use as a slide, and different tuning to allow him to play.
He played around the Mississipi for many years, able to get around on crutches to most venues and juke joints. One night, a police raid caused a stampede that trampled Cedell on the bandstand. The injuries he recieved caused him to be bound to a wheel chair for the rest of his life.
His music is difficult for some, but his vocal talent is legendary.
To overcome poverty, racism, affliction, and still be out there, doing what you love, bringing enjoyment and music is an inspiration to us all.
As a writer, persistence, heart, faith, and passion will get us to the promised land.
Even if we have to flip our writing upside down, use a butter knife, and change the tuning. Break the rules as if they don't exist.
When life gets hard, think of Cedell Davis.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
10. Running out of beer cans to return for gas money
9. Running out of crap to sell on eBay for paper, printer ink, stamps, envelopes, and YES, SASEs
8. Reaquiring a taste for 10/$1 Ramin Noodle Soup from college days
7. Start shopping at Save-a-lot where yes sports fans you really save a lot
6. Beer consumption increases and goes from $6 beers at the pub to $6 cases from Walmart
5. You go from 12 Year Old Glenlevit Scotch to month old Aristocrat
4. You go from $50 bottles of wine to looking for $2 wine ala Two-Buck-Chuck & eyeing Ripple
3. European vacation goes from a week in Venice, Italy to a trip to the corner store for #4,5,&6
2. Significant other shit cans you for lack of ambition and attentiveness
And the number one reason:
1. Blogging becomes more interesting and time consuming then sex.
I"ll post the top ten reasons its great to be The Starving Mystery Writer when the above go away.
I like to read and write in the mystery/thriller and hardboiled crime genres. I prefer first person narrative because it allows me into the protagonist's thoughts - in an intimate way. It allows me to relate, very personally, to the characters. Elmore Leonard is one of the few authors in this genre that uses the third person narrative and does it well.
I have read some novels where the writer switches between the two narratives. These seem to be a harder read.
Please tell your genre, which narrative you prefer, and why.
It will be interesting to see the results.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Yesterday, I had similar conversation with a novelest friend that is writing a series. He is making a certain type of animal a reoccuring character in his novels. I was intrigued and have been pondering the plot possiblities and parallels of a city as a character too.
All of the authors I admire use a city as a theme or character in their books; Hammet, Chandler, Connelly, Grisham, Dehane, all flavor their stories with the true local vibe that permates each respective city. The cities themselves become alive and as I read their stories, I want to be there, walk the streets, and participate in the life that occurs there.
I have long been intrigued by Detroit. The beauty and grittiness, better than any city, Detroit reflects the effects of America's move from an industrial economy to an information economy and its decline. Hopefully, Detroit will re-estabish itself as a cultural center and destination sometime in the future. Many of the cities' problems and triumphs mirror those of our nation. Blind pigs and speakeasies of the 1920's and thirties, bootlegging, race riots of 1943 and 1967, all reflect that turbulent time. Proserity brought by the automobile and WWII industrial production demonstrate the increase of wealth of our nation for similar reasons. Detroit's earlier influence has left many great marks of achievement across the United States.
So, after reflection, I have decided to make several visits to Detroit to emerce myself in it and its culture. Elmore Leonard lives outside of Detroit and is the only popular author that I know of that uses Detroit as his novel's setting. It will be a central theme and subltle character my coming stories and novels. It is my goal that this addition will add another layer of complexity and flavor to my stories and novels.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."
Friday, January 13, 2006
What do you get when you mix, Oprah, a Bestselling Author, and allegations of a pack of lies?
LAWYERS. Lots of 'em.
Ok, I couldn't give a shit about celebs that end up getting their mugshot taken for personal indiscretions, but I have to give it to The Smoking Gun folks. They fucking ROCK.
Check out their posting of a letter sent to them by James Frye's lawyers, in which the last line threatens:
"Any publication disseminated or broadcast of any portion of this letter constitues a breach of confidence and a violation of the Copyright act."
They didn't publish a portion. They published all of it.
As a lawyer, I read that last statement and laughed my ass off. That rates right up there with the "facts" in Fryes memoir.
The only solice is that the posted letter likely cost Frye between one to five thousand dollars.
The internet may yet restore my faith in truth, justice, and the American way.
The site will provide affordable downloadable music, short stories, excerpts of books, audiobooks, and various merchandising. Stay tuned.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
I left the room bewildered. Who was this man? My Grandfather? A painter? An artist? I walked down the hallway and entered his bedroom. Seventies’ vintage furniture, modest but functional, were arranged for ease of use. Lime greens and bright yellows, long out of fashion. At the foot of the bed was a faded green footlocker with an afghan checkered draped over it. I pushed the afghan aside, unclasped the buckles and opened it. The smell of mothballs overwhelmed me.
Inside were the faded remnants of 85 years of life. A government issue .45 in a leather cases placement on top of a folded green dress uniform, gave the appearance of a paper weight on a stack of neat boundless of a life lived. A full breast of medal ribbons hung from the breast of the uniform. More medals that I had ever seen on any General. Now dry rooting symbols of blood spilled on foreign soils.
I removed the top tray containing the gun and uniform and underneath found two near stacks shaped like small pyramids. One stack contained from the bottom up; 3 thick photo albums, loose yellowed black and white photos bundled with a piece of twine, and a bundle of letters held together with a red satin ribbon. The other stack contained four framed diplomas.
My hands began to shake as I removed and tugged at the satin ribbon to release the letters. The first letter envelope had no external markings. I thumbed through the others were addressed to Evelynn Annette Lafayette. They were stamped but not post marked. Two, addressed to T.J. Barrow, were postmarked.
The unmarked envelope was not sealed, so I removed the three faded pages from its home for the last few decades. Confused, I drew the letter closer as I realized that the letter…was addressed to me.
December 12, 1980
I write this to you on the day the jury is to come back with the verdict of my murder trial. You may never get this, but in the hope you do, I would like to explain my life and what lead me to this point . . .
Startled, I heard the back door slam to the kitchen, and then keys jingled as they were placed on a counter in the kitchen.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice called out.
A very attractive, black woman in her mid-forties, dressed in a business suit came into the bedroom and extended her hand, “You must be Trevor.”
I put my hand into hers and shook it, “Are you the realtor? Did the lawyer send you?”
“Uh, no….” She said as she glanced into the opened footlocker.
“Then you are…?”
“Anne, Anne Williams, please to meet you.”
“Are you the housekeeper?”
“No, um…I am a, uh, was a…friend of TJ, your Grandfather.”
“Yes, I’ve taken care of this place since your Grandfather was incarcerated.”
“For Twenty-five years?”
“I don’t understand. His estate paid you to maintain this house for all this time?”
“No, I took no money.”
“But the garden? The paintings? It as if he still lived here.”
“The garden, I attend to, it was his passion, his tranquility, his oasis. The paintings he gave to me when he entered prison, I kept them here because this is where they belong. I left everything as it was in the hopes that he would eventually be released.”
“Why would you do this? Why? Everyone in my family disowned him years ago.”
“He had hard times. He drank. Heavily. But he was a very good man, a kind and gentle man. Talented. Misunderstood. Tormented.”
“How did you meet him?”
“I met him during the murder trial, actually briefly before that, but I got to know him during the trial.”
“So, you worked for the defense team?”
“Are you a reporter?”
“No, um, he saved me.”
“Saved you, I don’t…”
“Yes, I was the young girl in the alley. He was drunk and stumbled into the alley with a bottle of booze in his hand. He found me badly beaten and bloody, one man on top of me, the other laughing, waiting for his turn.”
“But the trial. The defense. Why?”
“The laughing man pulled a gun and aimed at TJ. The other got off of me and pulled a knife. TJ fought both of them off. He ended up with the gun and shot them both.”
“Both of those men were white, off duty policemen. He never had a chance in court.” She said. She tried to restrain the tears welling up in her eyes but couldn’t.
“Yes, I tried to help him during the trial. I was so grateful to him. It was a racially charged time back then and for a white man to do that for me…well, I was grateful.”
“Yes, my maiden name was Evelynn Annette Lafayette. When I got to know him we fell in love. It was a brief but intense affair. He went to prison and I eventually married. But I never forgot. Never forgot what he did for me and the price he paid.”
“He gave those to me. I’ve sold a few to keep the estate funded.”
I didn’t have any words. I couldn’t speak. My fingers went to my lips but I couldn’t utter a sound.
“He gave them to me but I couldn’t accept them. I want you to have them. Look, I have some coffee in the kitchen, why don’t you let me make us some?” She said as she left the room.
I nodded and sat down on the bed. Hand trembling, I still held the letter. I returned my gaze to it, and began to read again:
… War has destroyed this family. Your father was killed in Vietnam when you were a young boy and I was killed - my soul was killed on the battlefields of Africa and Europe. The things I saw and did, changed me forever.
I’ve had many loves in my life. I’ve loved family, gardening, painting, music, Evelynn and you. I am proud you and hope you have a happy and successful life.
As for prison, I feel this is my justice for the things I did in the war. Karma has a way of following you around and paying you back in unexpected ways. I don’t look foreword to it but I will take the punishment without complaint.
Please remember, honor, dignity, and truth are your guiding principles in this life.
I didn’t realize, but tears dripped onto the pages as I read those final words. Tears that blotched white stains on the yellowed paper and caused the ink to run lines down the page. Words written twenty-five years ago by a man I had never talked to.
A dusty footlocker and a faded letter, in an all but forgotten house, showed me who my grandfather, the convicted murderer really was... an artist, a lover, and a hero.
A guantlet must be run, and this guantlet is one serious writers must be prepared for. Most of us look to how-to-books, published authors, and industry gurus for guidance in our attempt to become published. We must, however, temper these inputs with our own common sense, morality, and business sense.
There was a movie a couple decades ago, starring Clint Eastwood as a cop, called The Gauntlet. The premise: a cop had to get a witness to the courthouse of a corrupt city. He had conflicts with all levels of government and the climax was a run up Main Street in a self-armored Greyhound bus. Every policeman, SWAT team, marksman, etc., took shots at the cop and his witness on their run for the saftey of the courthouse.
Writers must put on their heavy battle armor of good writing and confidence to run the guantlet of the publishing industry. It is set up for the writer to fail. The writer is the single sperm in millions that has to penetrate the egg. Because of technological advances agents, magazines, and publishers are buried with submittals. The industry is trying to cope with these advances that are revolutionizing publishing and bookselling. The road to publishing is a "weeding out" and "thinning the heard" process. Only the strong will survive. Yes, there may be a few week ones to get through but they are lottery winners.
As Miss Snark pointed out yesterday. Some agents are too busy to read a mss without an SASE. Ok, a guy living in a shack in BFE writes the next For Whom The Bell Tolls, it hits a busy agents desk by mail, because this guy has no concept of technology, he doesn't include an SASE, and his mss gets shit canned. Ok, the guy in BFE is discouraged, but sends it to another agent and then another until guess what? There is a hungry agent out there who reads every submittal. He gets published. This, I think, was J.A. Konrath's point. If you choose to take his advise, then the only response you will EVER get is from an interested agent or publisher.
My point, first and foremost, is write a good damn book. More than a good damn book, the best book you can write. Then polish it, hone it, and sharpen it. Look for an agent in whatever method you feel makes sound business sense.
Then RUN the guantlet.
At the end of The Guantlet, Clint and his witness emerge from the bulletridden Greyhound, blooded and wounded, but very much unduanted, defiant...and successful.
You can too.
I throw down the guantlet...
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
American book-buying public duped again?
The Washington Post reported today author James Frey's publisher, Random House, will offer refunds to disgruntled book buyers after allegations that his memoir "A Million Little Pieces" was not factual. Frey's book has sold approximately 1.77 million copies and was reported to be the best selling non-fiction book of 2005.
"Central to Frey's book, published in 2003, is his assertion that he was charged with assaulting an Ohio police officer with his car, with inciting a riot, with possession of crack cocaine and felony drunk driving -- charges that he wrote resulted in a three-month prison term.
The Smoking Gun, owned by Court TV, reported that most of those claims were not borne out by police records or by interviews with police and court officials. The Web site published the police officer's report of the key 1992 incident which shows Frey was found drunk in his car without a driver's license but did not, as he wrote, serve time the incident or behave in the outrageous manner portrayed in his book.
Smoking Gun editor William Bastone told Reuters, "In off-the-record interviews with us, Frey admitted embellishing facts in the book for dramatic impact."
Frey has since threatened to sue The Smoking Gun.
Frey's book was published in hardcover in 2003 and then in trade paperback with the coveted Oprah's Book Club endorsement in late September. Winfrey has not commented on the controversy surrounding the book.
Frey's October appearance on Winfrey's talk show made him an overnight literary sensation. Since the controversy, "A Million Little Pieces" has remained the No. 1 selling book on Amazon.com."
Frey's response, "I stand by my book, and my life, and I won't dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response," written this week on his personal Web site, www.bigjimindustries.com.
For those few of you who don't know an SASE is a self addressed stamped envelope usually requested or required by agents, publishers, magazines, and others for inclusion with any submittals of work for review.
This morning, the blogshere is a buzz with two opposing views, one by rising author Joe Konrath, and the other by anonomous literary agent, Miss Snark.
And the comment I made that was not posted:
"A Tale of Two Tragedies:
First, a good writer fails to find the good agent because an SASE is not included in the submittal and the agent refuses to read writer's work.
Second, a good agent fails to find the good writer because the writer didn't include an SASE.
What a shitty plot. You decide."
Ok, I gave her qudos for her reading 100 synopses, but quashing freedom of speech -that's just wrong. Ok, maybe I shouldn't have said "shitty" but if you think of the implications, the word fits.
This is a ridiculous argument. Honestly, good writers will get published whether or not they send an SASE. Some before others.
Do you WANT an agent that excludes your work because there was no SASE? Does an agent WANT a writer who does not follow stated guidlines requiring SASEs?
As a writer do what you feel comfortable with. Joe Konrath bases his opinion on struggling through the publication process. We dont even know if Miss Snark really is an agent and if she is there are plenty of others out there. Agents are buried with submittals so her point is well taken. Read both arguments and you decide.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Camels killed him. Not the humped type, the non-filtered type. The kind cigarette companies’ peddle to children today from a mammal in a black leather jacket, sunglasses, and walks upright – the cool camel. Two packs a day, since he was twelve.
The old murderer finally got his due – an agonizing death and sent straight to hell. That’s what they said at his funeral and wake at Jackson State Prison. Whispered really. He was Eighty-five years old, my grandfather. I didn’t know him and really only saw him twice in my life. Once, in the cheap coffin at the funeral home provided by the state of Michigan, and once at his sentencing. Both times he looked frail and old. Lifeless. Soulless. His eyes had a disinterested, unrepentant quality. He glared at the sentencing judge, as he received the life sentence, he shrugged with the import of a speeding ticket.
Most of his life the black sheep of our family, and later a complete outcast, he was born in the depression era. He suffered poverty and racial injustice most of his life. I knew he served in World War II but no one in my family ever spoke of it or him.
T. Jeffers Barrow, TJ - my family called him, if they called him at all, lived a solitary life, living in the same house for sixty years before he was sent to prison. The neighborhood he lived in went from middle class in the fifties and faced decline into an inner-city urban crime center in the seventies. He stayed and endured.
After countless trips to jail for drunk driving, assaulting a police officer, and aggravated assault, he was convicted of the double homicide of two white men. They were in the process of attempting to rape a young black woman. It didn’t come out in trial. He shot them both in an alley downtown. This did come out at trial. During sentencing, he said nothing in his defense. The public defender did a poor job. An all white jury found him guilty on both counts of homicide and a weapons charge.
After the funeral, his attorney called to inform me of a will. I was confused because as far as I knew my grandfather didn’t own anything, but I told him I would be at the probate hearing when scheduled.
A few months later, the only present at the probate hearing was the attorney, the judge, a court reporter, and I. The court declared me sole heir. There had been a small trust. It kept his house out of tax arrears and provided for its up keep. The trust did not have much money left so the house and its contents were all estate assets. The attorney handed me the key and we shook hands as I left the courtroom.
I drove over to the house thinking I would check it out and call a realtor to immediately sell it. The drive took me through some neighborhoods I wouldn’t want to be in at night but as I got closer to the address white suburbia returned. Older houses, well maintained, with fresh colors and late model cars in their driveways.
I pulled my car into the driveway. It was an attractive single story house. Sandstone fascia, faded cedar sided, gray slate roof. It looked well maintained, like someone was on vacation and could return any day.
I got out of the car, circled the house, and came around to the back. I walked up the stairs to the backdoor and noticed the backyard was a beautiful garden. It had cobblestone-paved walkways wound around the small yard. Various colorful flowers, spice plants, trees of odd varieties, populated the space. A high wooded privacy fence encircled the garden providing and odd quiet and intimacy. It was glorious, a hidden garden beyond the reaches of a ghetto, a place of solitude.
The key to the back door opened it with little effort. Inside, a bright white kitchen was warmed by afternoon sunlight. I walked through the house and looked at all the rooms. I stopped when I opened the door to a spare bedroom overlooking the garden. I was hit with the immediate distinctive smell of paint and turpentine. On the back wall a glass double French door bathed the rooms interior with light. In it was an artist’s studio full of paintings.
Vibrant paintings of varied styles were stacked in the corner and one frozen in incompletion, clamped in the wooden easel. Baroque framed pastel floral paintings, abstracts in oil, pointillism, and impressionistic landscapes, hung on the walls like a museum. In one of the other corners was a beat-up guitar with various color paint streaks and fingerprints.
I thumbed through the paintings in the stack. I peered at the each painting on the wall.
The signature on everyone, in the lower right hand corner -T.J. Barrow.
I left the room bewildered. Who was this man? My Grandfather? A painter? An artist? Murderer? I walked down the hallway and entered his bedroom. Seventies’ vintage furniture, modest but functional, were arranged for ease of use. Lime green and browns, long out of fashion. At the foot of the bed was a faded army issue footlocker with an afghan checkered draped over it. I pushed the afghan aside, unclasped the buckles, and opened it. The smell of mothballs overwhelmed me.
Inside were the faded remnants of 85 years of life. A government issue .45 in a leather cases placement on top of a folded green dress uniform, gave the appearance of a paper weight on a stack of the neat boundles of a life lived. A full breast of medal ribbons hung from the front pocket of the uniform. More medals then I had ever seen on any General. Now dry roting symbols of blood spilled on foreign soils.
I removed the top tray containing the gun and uniform and underneath found two symetric stacks shaped like small pyramids. One stack contained from the bottom up; 3 thick photo albums, loose yellowed black and white photos bundled with a piece of twine, and a bundle of letters held together with a red satin ribbon. The other stack contained four framed diplomas.
My hands began to shake as I removed and tugged at the satin ribbon to release the letters. The first letter envelope had no external markings. I thumbed through the others addressed to Evelynn Annette Lafayette. They were stamped but not post marked. Two, addressed to T.J. Barrow, were postmarked.
The unmarked envelope was not sealed, so I removed the three faded pages from its home for the last few decades.
Confused, I drew the letter closer as I realized that the letter…was addressed to me.
Ok, there's a bunch of "thats" and a couple "was" but I'm worin on that...oops.
The road to success for a successful professional fiction writer appears to have three levels; publication, mid-list, bestsellerdom.
Any author, if they gain entry into the land of the published, can travel these roads. Potholes abound on each.
I have yet to figure out how a writer can make a living writing short fiction, unless they do it prolifically, with cross genre and non-fiction magazines. So, what follows pertains to the novelist.
Publication is not the panacea. It's the ticket at the gate. Many first-time published authors sell poorly and are never published again. Thier books quickly go out of print and can be found, if at all, on Amazon for a penny. Therefore, selection of a supportive publishing house is crucial. Gone are the days where big houses nurture an author over several books. Some smaller genre publishers may still do these but most have limited marketing support and budgets. Most published authors must diligently self-promote to advance to the second level of success. Author J.A. Konrath is the Svengali of self-promotion, so any authors should check out his blog and website.
Mid-list authors are those that sell well enough for the publishing houses to earn back thier investment and make some profit. These are good authors with a loyal fan base. They may be in niche genres that do not generate the requisite numbers to push the author into th next level. As I understand it, mid-list authors have taken a beating recently, being dropped from larger houses as they seek the next bestselling author. The mid-list author makes a living. A good mid-list author makes a good living.
Bestsellerdom. This is the brass ring. The whole enchilada. Fame, fortune, expensive hotels, jets, etc. But there's a down side. There are expectations and demands on bestselling authors to remain bestselling. In many cases, A book a year must be produced. Bestselling author, Tess Gerritson has an excellent blog, titled Cranking Them Out, explaining this phenomenon. If sales lag, bestsellers can decend the tiers of authorship or fall off all together.
These is one thing that a novelist should keep in mind when selecting a publishing house. Will the house keep your books in print? An interesting thing happens on your way to the top level. Demand for your previous books increase proportionately with fame. I.e. backlist gets pulled up. Be aware.
I am still in the research phase of my career and am surveying the field. If any published authors or other find errors in my assessment please piont them out.
The road to bestsellerdom is a rocky one filled with cavernous pot holes. The task is to navigate this road without being swallowed.